traditional definition of a “normal” family life cycle is changing
in our evolving lifestyles. There are many different styles that
achieve a “normal” life for many people. My focus is on the
transitional changes for families when a couple’s marriage breaks down
and the intact, nuclear family life is disorganized. The couple
separates and forms a bi-nuclear family. The marriage has
terminated, but biological parents are permanent: both parents to
their children and children to their parents. A survey in 1990 reported
that one out of three children will experience their parental
divorce before they are 18 years old.
The separated partners
with children have a big adjustment in terms of what responsibility
each partner must recognize about their personal share in the
marriage breakup. Both parents must get on with their personal and
separate lives to reorganize the separate households into bi-nuclear
families. Studies indicate that 3/4 of divorced people go into another
relationship, either a remarriage or cohabitation, three to five
years after the divorce.
the growing divorce rate and growing post-divorce remarriage, my
clinical practice as a marital therapist was changing. Problems were
different. The remarriage family is unique. My clients indicated they
were unprepared for many of the problems. I was involved in a
cross-Canada research project on remarriage where at least one of
the partners had been divorced and at least one of the partners had
children by the previous marriage. A unanimous response to the
questionnaire was that people were not prepared for the differences
involved in trying to create a family life from parts of two
previous families. I learned that it is essential for post-divorce
marriages with children from the previous marriage to learn in advance
that to become a “blended” family takes time and understanding of
the unique situation of bringing together parts of two previous
my experience, I have learned some of the difficulties that couples
must understand and be prepared to adapt to for the remarriage to
work for the family with different memberships.
begin with, the remarriage family will never be an intact family.
The family boundaries will be open to the first marriage via the
children to their non-resident biological parent and the extended
family. This necessitates that the ex-partners must have contact
together in relation to their mutual children. The remarried
partners come together at different stages of their lives with
different marriage backgrounds and different customs. Studies have
conveyed the largest number of remarriages are between two divorced
people. Both may be custodial parents, or one may be a custodial parent and
the partner may have weekly access to his or her children. There may be
children of both partners living in the remarriage home, or one
partner’s children may live full time, the other partner’s may visit
bi-weekly. The children may be different ages, different stages in
their lives, brought up differently. They may be different sex and
same age. Another couple may come together with one partner divorced,
the other never married and wanting to have children by the
marriage. The newly married couple may have only weekly access to
their children. They have a couple of weeks together and have the
couple may be in love and want the marriage, but there is no
honeymoon period when there are children from the previous marriage;
there is bound to be some form of instant family life.
ambiguity of step roles and level of authority must be clearly
recognized. The myth that loving the partner will mean loving the
partners’ children immediately can create disappointment and resentment.
For post-divorce marriages
with children from the previous marriage to work, it is essential
that the couple (and frequently the whole family) be educated and
prepared for the unique aspects of a post-divorce marriage.
Lillian Messinger is a marriage counselor in Toronto who specializes in post-divorce remarriage. She is the author of Remarriage: A Family Affair.